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Hi, its Tim in Munich. I almost forgot to write this intro so here are some tips on remembering important tasks. But first…

Today’s must-reads

Setting reminders can help your memory skills

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New research suggests that setting up smartphone or Post-it note reminders for important tasks can help you not only complete these action items, but also better remember to take care of less-pressing matters that you haven’t written down. That’s because the act of creating an external reminder for such “high-value” tasks shifts the way that you use your memory, freeing up brainspace for other information, according to the study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

In the study, adults had to remember to drag numbered circles to different sides of a screen. One side was deemed “high value” and the other “low value.” Participants earned more money for accurately moving circles to the former.

Summer of chaos. Everything you need to know, every weekday.Summer of chaos. Everything you need to know, every weekday.Summer of chaos. Everything you need to know, every weekday.The Readout with Allegra Stratton on the big issues shaking the UK.The Readout with Allegra Stratton on the big issues shaking the UK.The Readout with Allegra Stratton on the big issues shaking the UK.

When people were allowed to store information about the circles on digital devices, their performance improved as expected for high-value circles  but it improved even more when it came to low-value circles. Focusing on priorities, it seems, took up a lot of people’s mental capacity. When that task could be outsourced, people appeared to be able to hold a lot more information that they considered less-valuable in their heads.

“We wanted to explore how storing information in a digital device could influence memory abilities,” says Sam Gilbert, lead author of the study and cognitive neuroscientist at University College London.

“The results show that external memory tools work.”

The research pushes back against fears that overuse of technology could erode people’s cognitive functions, thus causing “digital dementia,” Gilbert argues. That, however, comes with a couple of catches.

For one, more research is needed specifically on smartphones and their impact on human memory.

For another, if you’re going to rely on an external brain, it better be reliable. Otherwise, you risk forgetting to do your most important tasks and remembering to do a bunch of less important things, Gilbert warns.

It may seem obvious that setting up reminders can help your memory skills. But the history of cognitive research is filled with examples of common sense getting proved wrong, according to Kevin McConway, a professor of applied statistics at the Open University in England. That’s why this type of research is worthwhile, and more of it should be done, especially when it comes to smartphones and human behavior, McConway says.  

Tim Loh

What were reading

Patients suffering chronic pain are being denied treatment in low-income countries in part due to the

US opioid crisis, the Guardian reports.

After two years of working from home, many women are no longer willing to endure

painful footwear, Jo Constanz writes.

We can fight monkeypox without hysteria or homophobia, Kai Kupferschmidt says in the

New York Times.

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